Barbara Johns Day, April 23rd

Barbara Johns Day is a state holiday in Virginia, celebrating the life and courage of the civil rights activist, whose heroic actions contributed to the dismantling of school segregation.

On April 23rd, 1951, 16 years old Barbara Johns led a strike against the poor and nonequal conditions at her all-Black high school in Farmville, Virginia. Johns organized a protest of 450 students, who marched to the county courthouse demanding building a new school with the same facilities that white schools have. During the two weeks’ strike, Johns approached lawyers for the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) for legal counsel. The NAACP included this case in the landmark case Brown v. Board of Education, in which the US Supreme Court ruled that racial segregation in public schools is unconstitutional. Johns’ fortitude, bravery, and persistence changed history and left an undeniable mark on the American nation. After the march, her life was threatened, so she was sent to live with her relatives in Alabama. Later on, she went to Drexel University, finishing with a degree in library science. She got married and had 5 kids. Till her death in 1991, she worked as a librarian for the Philadelphia school system.

Johns in her high school graduation photo from 1952. Photo credit – Wikipedia.

Since 2018 Barbara Johns Day has been celebrated annually throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia after the Virginia General Assembly passed it in the previous year. On the day, there are educational activities and events throughout the state commemorating Johns and the implication of her actions, reminding people that every voice matters, regardless of age, race, or gender.


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